Devin Booker left the game in the third quarter of the Suns’ first round game against the Pelicans Tuesday night with a hamstring injury. Regardless of severity, this is something Phoenix will no doubt be very careful with, as Booker nursed a similar injury just earlier this season. The first-placed Phoenix Suns lost that game, and found themselves tied 1-1, with a dark cloud looming over their superstar player.
Not only is this a reminder that anything can happen, but it is a message to every team, including the Mavericks, that the West is wide open. As Dallas heads to Utah for games three and four, it is imperative that they take advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself. Luck plays such a big part in determining a champion, and to prove it, let’s just look back at the previous four champions and what it took for them to get there:
2021 Milwaukee Bucks
Of course, had Kevin Durant’s foot not been on the line or had James Harden been healthy the Bucks might not have even made it out of the second round. It took incredible seven game luck for that to happen, and then even more so for Atlanta to beat the 76ers on the other side.
It also took a stroke of luck for the Jazz to collapse to the Kawhi-less Clippers, and then for the Clippers to lose to the Suns, their eventual Finals opponent, in a year where Milwaukee was 1-3 against Utah and LA combined in the regular season.
2020 Los Angeles Lakers
The bubble was a crazy place, and the Lakers were the primary beneficiary of the chaos. They haven’t made it out of the first round since, retaining the same core guys, and even had two of Miami’s key players, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic, get hurt in the Finals.
In addition, the Clippers had to blow a 3-1 series lead to Denver in the second round for the Lakers to avoid playing what was considered their worst matchup in the Western Conference Finals.
2019 Toronto Raptors
In one of the luckiest championship seasons ever, the Raptors needed a multitude of dominoes to fall for them to end up on top. They needed an all-time great bounce from a fade-away jump shot by Kawhi Leonard to sink the only buzzer-beater to win a game seven in NBA history. They needed not only Kevin Durant, but Demarcus Cousins and Klay Thompson to get hurt to avoid becoming the next victim of the Warriors dynasty. Even more so, they needed the fallout between San Antonio and Kawhi Leonard the year prior to even sniff a chance at a ring. Leonard played one year there, won a ring, and left.
This Warriors team was so good that it may not have seemed like they needed any luck, but there were three instances that saved their season. The first was Chris Paul getting hurt in game five of the conference finals as the Rockets took a 3-2 lead in the series. The second was the infamous game seven of the same series where Houston missed 27 consecutive threes. The third, JR Smith not knowing the score and dribbling out the clock in a tie game during game one of the Finals. Cleveland lost that game, lost all momentum, and the Warriors completed the sweep.
2022 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks are good. Their defense is stout, the role players do their job most of the time, and they have great coaching. These are all marks of a championship contending team. Jalen Brunson is about to be a prime free agent, and the Mavericks are going to have to move mountains to keep him. Dallas has the whole team bought in and a generational talent on the brink of making his return. Devin Booker just got hurt and because the Mavericks would have to play either Phoenix or New Orleans in the next round, this could clear a pathway to the Western Conference Finals. Once you’re in the conference finals anything can happen, and if you get a little lucky, a trip to the NBA Finals could be one step away.
Winning game two was huge because now Dallas has five games to win three, and if Luka Doncic plays in at least three of those, the Mavericks are going to win the series. From there, they have momentum. If luck stays on their side and Doncic gets healthy just in time, the Mavericks are four games from the NBA Finals where Memphis, Minnesota, Denver or Golden State would await them. Dallas is 8-5 against those teams this season. You never know how quickly your window is going to close, and the time is now to take advantage of the one the Mavericks have been given.